Rotisserie baseball was cooked up decades ago, and every sport seems to have fantasy leagues nowadays. But as the NFL grew to dominate the American sports landscape, it seems nothing has made people obsess over the players they “draft” like football. The craze had spread to college football as well in recent years.
So there’s no time like the present to have a fantasy All-Big Ten team. It would be fun to imagine how this team would stack up against teams from other conferences, which is one of the things that makes college fantasy sports different from the pros — NFL schedules are designed to be relatively balanced, whereas college teams might have wildly divergent strength-of-schedule ratings, which will play a part in the statistics they roll up.
We apply pretty standard fantasy rules for this team: One quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, one flex spot, one kicker and one defensive unit.
QB: Trace McSorley, Penn State
The Nittany Lions star comes into 2018 with two 3,500-yard passing seasons in the bank, and if he stays healthy there is no reason he can’t make it three in a row. The encouraging thing for PSU fans is that his completion percentage shot up from 57.9 in 2016 to 66.5 in 2017.
RB1: Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
His sensational freshman season, in which he was third in the country with 1,977 rushing yards, might only be a building block. He scored 13 touchdowns last season and it’s easy to imagine him going past 20 in 2018, making him a no-brainer in any fantasy starting lineup.
RB2: J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State
His emergence last season was a revelation in Columbus, as he averaged 7.2 yards on his 194 carries. Fantasy football fanatics know all about the “handcuff” option, where you choose two players at one position from one team and start both. Dobbins and teammate Mike Weber would make a lethal duo in some weeks.
WR1: Stanley Morgan, Nebraska
His 10 touchdown catches in 2017 were tied for the second-most in the B1G, behind our pick at tight end. New coach Scott Frost favors an up-tempo offense, putting the wishbone era even farther in the rearview mirror for the Cornhuskers. If the new system is going to work right away, Morgan will be key.
WR2: Juwan Johnson, Penn State
The Nittany Lions don’t have do-everything running back Saquon Barkley around for the 2018 season. It’s hard to tell how McSorley will distribute his throws in the post-Barkley era. But it seems a decent bet that Johnson, at 6 feet 4 and 229 pounds, will make a tempting target for McSorley.
TE: Noah Fant, Iowa
His 11 touchdown catches last season led the Big Ten and at 6 feet 5, 241 pounds, he presents a big matchup problem in the red zone. Fant had 30 catches in 2017 and should get more as quarterback Nate Stanley develops. An easy nonconference slate (Northern Illinois, Iowa State, Northern Iowa) could see Fant have a hot start.
FLEX (RB/WR/TE): WR: Tyler Johnson, Minnesota
This is a little risky because it depends on an untested quarterback finding Johnson more often; the junior had just 35 receptions in 2017. But Johnson’s explosiveness — he was 18th in the country in average yards per reception in 2017 at 19.3 — might make him good value. It helps that the Golden Gophers avoid Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State in 2018.
K: Rafael Gaglianone, Wisconsin
The reliable Badgers senior has made 80 percent of his field goal attempts in his career (60-for-75) and hasn’t missed an extra point since 2014. You can just about flip a coin between him and Ohio State’s Sean Nuernberger, and this decision also depends on the health of the Wisconsin kicker, who is out indefinitely with an injury as of Thursday.
This unit returns so much talent, it’s scary. All four members of the secondary return to a program which led the nation in pass defense last season. Linemen Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary return, as do linebackers Khaleke Hudson (above) and Devin Bush. The Wolverines allowed just 18,8 points a game in 2017 and could be stingier now.
If this were a true fantasy league, where the Big Ten would compete against the fantasy teams of all other conferences, it would rely heavily on its running backs to steal the show. That’s such a Big Ten thing to do, though, right? Trace McSorley should put up big passing numbers once again in 2018 for the Nittany Lions. But if recent history is any indication, it will be difficult for any Big Ten QB to match the stats from pass-happy leagues like the Big 12 and the American Athletic Conference. Remember, fantasy football isn’t about who the best players are, but rather about the numbers they put up.